Saturday, March 08, 2008

-Made- review

I just watched the NFL Made. There's no two ways about it--MTV did a very poor job.

As I said earlier, MTV followed a kid from a fellow SW Washington school around as she tried to transform herself from ditzy cheerleader to confident debater. I was on hand for three of the meets, as the kid dipped her toe in the water by doing Congress and IR, eventually working her way to debating Parli and Public Forum.

The main issue, as I saw it, sprang from the fact that her Made coach was not nearly as able as her actual, real-live, forensics coach who was right there in the building. MTV declared that spiky-haired neophyte had to be the "primary" coach, while the expert but in-his-fifties-and-not-remotely-hip coach had to serve as "secondary" coach.

As I tried to figure out what was going on with this show (so I could tell my kids what to expect), I watched a couple of episodes, and believe it or not, I enjoyed them. I watched an overprotected girl try to become a skateboarder, and a 4.0 student try to become a rapper. In each case, the interaction between the kid and the Made coach was entirely central to the piece and to the kid's growth, as well as to the arc of the story.

But the guy they picked for this job simply didn't teach this aspiring debater very much. He made her lug around a jar and put a quarter in it every time she said "like," and he got her to debate against a fellow cheerleader on Ninjas vs. Pirates. The first helped her a little; the second not at all. So instead of seeing the value of a one-on-one coach working with a kid to push her intellectually (and the excitement and joy that can produce, even for an MTV audience), we got almost nothing from him.

Net result: he was barely in the show.

Instead, once we were done with an entirely useless bit where she walked around Seoul (she spent Christmas break with her Air Force dad in Korea) doing irrelevant Amazing-Race style challenges, the show mostly consisted of the kid spending lunches in the library working on her Public Forum case with her partner, then heading home and working with him some more.

The message, perhaps unintended: if you want to get smarter and be taken more intellectually seriously, you don't need a damn Made coach. Just spend some time in the library and some time talking to smart people. Even a casual observer of the show could see that the kid's teammates and newfound work ethic helped her far more than the spiky-haired Made coach did.

I don't know if Made's target audience will pick up on that message--but I sincerely hope they do.

Still, we saw debate for only the last 20 minutes of the hour-long show. And it was the only part of the show worth watching. Good debate is good television. Why did MTV zero in on so little of it? They had a legitimate story arc just in the three meets I saw the cameras at: kid comes into the less-challenging events, gains confidence, tries tougher events, takes a few lumps, and comes out smarter. If they'd made that the story, it would have been both better TV and more accurate. Everyone wins.

As is, they made a fairly compelling story look silly and boring. That's a shame, because a better program would have been better for debate overall. Nobody won.

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